You likely think about towering mountains, steep ravines, and rushing rivers when you think about the Montana landscape. There’s no denying that Montana has some of the most beautiful scenery. However, besides the jagged mountains, Montana has some other exciting features below the earth’s surface — caves.
Join us as we explore caves in Montana. It might be enough to get you to book that trip you’ve been considering. Let’s go spelunking!
Are There Caves in Montana?
Yes, there are caves in Montana. It’s home to over 300 known caves. Most of them are “wild caves” versus tourist caves.
They typically require some experience or a guide because you won’t find stairs, rails, or lighting. With that said, some caves do handle tourists with comfort and safety measures implemented.
Why Are There So Many Caves in Montana?
Most of the caves in Montana result from something called karst topography. This is when the soft bedrock, composed of mainly limestone, has been eroded over a great time by rains.
The water makes its way through the cracks and crevices in the rock, taking small limestone particles with it. Over many years — we’re talking millions of years — caves begin to appear where the rock once was.
Traveler’s Tip: Are you brave enough to explore these 8 Spectacular Caves in Idaho?
The Best Caves in Montana
With over 300 caves, it would be near impossible to explore them all. Thankfully we’ve gathered a few of the best caves in Montana for you to put on your bucket list.
Let’s check them out!
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
25 Lewis & Clark Caverns Rd, Whitehall, MT 59759
About: Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is in Whitehall, Mont., a small town about an hour west of Bozeman. The park is home to one of the most famous caves in the entire state.
The site stretches over 3,015 acres giving visitors plenty to see and explore. While you are unlikely to catch a glimpse of them, the cave is home to between 50 and 150 female bats. The entry point is at an elevation of 4,300 feet, while the cavern section is 5,300 feet.
The park and cave are open year-round, and there’s a visitor center for guests to experience. Visitors can book a guided tour on the park’s website.
Why Visit: This state park is the true definition of a place with something for everyone. Many people initially come for the cave, and seeing as it’s the largest limestone cave in the northwest, we understand why.
The cave itself is worth the trip, but with that said, there’s so much more to this park. Visitors can hike, bike, canoe, camp, fish, bird watch, and more. This isn’t a quick pull-through destination; it’s worth spending a few days here.
Bighorn Cavern, Wyola, MT
About: Bighorn Cavern is found right along the Montana and Wyoming border. Those looking to enter the cave must get a permit from the National Park Service (NPS), available at the Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center.
Each group touring the cave must have three to six people in the group, one of which must be well versed on the cave. There are only two groups permitted in the cave at any given time. There is a 70-foot to 80-foot cave entrance where ropes are necessary for entry.
Why Visit: Bighorn Cavern is the longest cave in all of Montana. There are 14 miles of known passages throughout the cave.
Visitors can see stalagmites, soda straws, columns, stalactites, and aragonite needles. The biggest draw for this cave is the variety of crystal formations.
Lick Creek Cave
Coordinates: 47.12391082261068, -111.00743095039
About: While the Lewis and Clark State Park Cave is the most visited cave in the state, Lick Creek Cave is the most visited wild cave. Despite this, it isn’t easy to find.
You won’t find the cave walls lined with handrails here. To explore this cave, you’ll want to have a guide with experience. It isn’t a challenging cave to navigate, but like all caves, there is risk involved, especially if you are unfamiliar with the layout.
This cave has sadly dealt with its fair share of litter and graffiti. Thankfully, there have been successful efforts to curb these occurrences in recent years.
Why Visit: Lick Creek Cave has the largest cave room in Montana. The Cathedral Room is large enough to fit a 747 inside. It’s impressive. The air is cooler and crisper in this large room. After having squeezed through tight spaces and crawling up and down ladders and ropes, it’s quite the sight.
Big Ice Cave
Pryor Mountain Rd, Bridger, MT 59014
About: Big Ice Cave is in Bridger, Mont., about 45 minutes from Billings. The cave isn’t too difficult to get to and is a short hike down a steep 0.2-mile path.
Visitors can access the cave from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There’s no fee and no permit required, and there are no guided tours.
Why Visit: Big Ice Cave is the perfect summer day adventure. The cave stays rather chilly, so be sure you bring a jacket.
The cave contains ice all year round due to the cooling effects the formation experiences. The ice is impressive to see and a big draw for the cave.
Devil’s Chute Cave
Lewistown, MT (Crystal Lake)
About: Devil’s Chute Cave is in a remote area in the “Big Snowy Mountains.” This mountain range is about 2 hours northwest of Billings.
To access the cave, visitors must be able to endure rough terrain. This hike to the cave starts on the Uhlhorn Trail, and from there, it climbs quickly over steep inclines up to the Big Snowies Crest. After following the crest, visitors will turn east onto the West Peak Trail and continue to the cave.
Why Visit: Devil’s Chute Cave cave is quite the challenge. Visiting it will give you a sense of accomplishment. You’ll need to navigate elevation changes and thick forests. It’s a wild ice cave at 8,000 feet in elevation.
Tears of the Turtle
Coordinates: 47.65754°N 113.244448°W
About: The entrance to Tears of the Turtle cave was discovered in 2006. It is in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
This western Montana cave is the deepest in the United States. It’s known to be 1,863 feet deep and about 1.5 miles long. Most of the cave is a 2-foot to 3-foot wide fissure passage with many short rope drops. It has an average temperature of 39 degrees.
Why Visit: If you are looking for a highly decorated cave, one with lots of geological features, this isn’t it. If you are looking to explore a lesser-explored cave that holds the title of the deepest limestone cave in the U.S., Tears of the Turtle cave fits the bill.
When exploring this cave, we suggest going with an experienced spelunker. If you can make it to the bottom of the cave, you will be one of a select few who can say they have done so.
Pictograph Cave State Park
3401 Coburn Rd, Billings, MT 59101
About: Pictograph Cave is within its namesake, Pictograph Cave State Park. There are three main caves in this state park.
Pictograph Cave is the deepest at approximately 160 feet wide and 45 feet deep. The cave site received its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1964. Visitors will only need to take a 0.75-mile trail to get to the cave.
Why Visit: Pictograph Cave is a great adventure for those intrigued by history. Hunters camped in this cave during prehistoric times, and they left behind many artifacts and pictographs.
The images give visitors a look back at what life was like at the time and what was important to the people. The oldest art in the cave is possibly over 2000 years old, with the newest artwork being only 200 to 500 years old.
Zortman, MT 59546
About: To get to Lookout Cave, you’ll need to travel to Zortman, Mont., located about two and a half hours north of Billings in Phillips County. Lookout Cave is high up in the mountains in a more remote area of Montana.
The cave holds the area’s largest collection of pictographs. The pictographs and the other historical materials found here have provided an invaluable look into the area’s historical culture.
Why Visit: When you think of caves, you likely think of them being deep underground. Lookout Cave provides the incredible experience of opening up high on the mountainside, giving visitors a beautiful look at the landscape.
The cave is well preserved with an amazing look back at life in the area long ago. Those visiting will see many pictographs, including paintings of bison, handprints, lines, and smears. Some of the artifacts found in the cave include tools dating back to the Late Prehistoric Period.
Are Caves in Montana Worth Visiting?
Those that get the opportunity to explore Montana’s caves won’t soon forget their experience. It is the perfect complement to Montana’s other outdoor recreation opportunities. Visitors to Montana generally make the trek to experience the state’s untamed outdoors, and the caves found here fit into that perfectly.
Have you had the chance to make your way into a Montana cave? How would you describe your experience?